making the best of it: 20 miles on the treadmill

With three kids and cold temperatures, many days the treadmill is my only option during the winter months.  Because of this, I’ve come to accept the fact that I really can’t afford to hate running indoors if I intend to keep up with my training at this time of year.  But I don’t love it and I certainly don’t prefer it to outdoor running, any day of the week.  I see the treadmill as a necessary evil and try to remember to be grateful for it, because any run is better than no run after all.

Usually when I get on the treadmill for more than just a few miles, I have to make it interesting and challenging – I mix my workout up with a tempo or creative speed intervals – in order to keep myself from getting insanely bored.  I push my speed.  I rarely push my distance.  Prior to yesterday, the most miles I had ever run on the treadmill was 10.  And I thought that was a lot (I still do).

I am not afraid of Old Man Winter.  I will run in freezing temperatures.  I will run in the rain.  In the dark.  I will run in the snow.  I actually really love winter running – layering up and breathing in the crisp cold air is invigorating and refreshing.  It makes me feel *hard core* – like I conquered so much more than just the miles, when I brave the elements and get it done in those conditions.  We all have that place where we draw the line though, and for me that line is drawn with one simple word: ICE.  When the trails are icy, I don’t need to risk falling and hurting myself.  It’s just not worth it.

Yesterday morning my line had to be drawn.  When I awoke to snow, freezing rain and ice I had to make a decision.  It wasn’t an easy one for me, even with the ice on the ground.  But my gut told me I should run indoors, so I listened.

Even though I have a treadmill in my basement, I decided to go to the gym to get my long run done.  It would be easier on my family that way – Mommy would be out for her run just like every other Saturday morning.  The main roads were perfectly safe to drive on so I packed up all my things and drove to the gym.

I couldn’t really believe I was about to do this.  But I also couldn’t bear the thought of not doing it, either.  It had to be done.

So I went to the locker room and took off all my warm cozy layers.  I had 2 full water bottles, 4 gels (I planned to eat three but brought an extra, just in case – and I am so glad that I did), a small towel, my iPod and a couple of magazines.  I found a treadmill in the back and made myself at home there.

the necessities

My plan for tackling the run?  Try to run it as close to how I would run it if I were outside.  Which meant at a comfortable pace, averaging somewhere around an 8:30 – 9:00 mile.  When I run outside I drink water throughout (and at least at every mile) and eat a gel every 5 miles.  The gym treadmill doesn’t let you run more than an hour at a time, so my plan was to run 5 miles, stop the treadmill to eat and refill my water (if necessary) and then tackle the next 5 miles.  This strategy worked really well for me because I just told myself mentally that I only needed to run 5 miles at a time.  In some weird way I was able to refresh myself mentally and physically after every 5 miles I ran.

I started out slower – running a 9:13 pace for the first mile and then notched it up to an 8:34 mile.  I hung onto that until Mile 5 when I stopped to eat my first gel.  I had some side stitches and felt like my breathing was funky during parts of the first segment.  Mentally, this first 5 miles was definitely the toughest for me.  I kept thinking Oh. My. God. I have to do this for a really really long time.  For REAL?  Time is moving soooo slooooowly.  Am I crazy?  Yes I am crazy.  But I already knew that.  Nearly of my friends and my sister were doing the run outside despite the weather and I kept thinking about them.  Sort of wondering if I was taking the “easy way out” by running on the treadmill.  I battled my mental and emotional demons in this first 5 miles though and quickly decided Hell NO! this was not the “easy way out” – there is no easy way out of 20 miles other than to just not do it!  This run was a beast and I was going to tame it.  Time for the first 5 miles: 43:27.

The next 5 miles were really really uneventful, guys.  Can you imagine?!  After having my gel and refilling my water I just ran, like a hamster on a wheel, for 5 more miles at an 8:34 pace – finishing it in 42:38.

I was halfway done!  Yayyy!

I grabbed another gel, toweled off and refilled both my water bottles.  I was sweating like crazy and drinking way more than usual because it was so warm in the gym.  My body isn’t used to training in that heat these days, so it was really an adjustment for me.

As I stepped back on the treadmill for the third segment I was entering into new territory – the “I’m running more miles on a treadmill than I ever have in my life” territory.  My endorphins were kicking in now and I was listening to some great music on my iPod.  I really enjoy my music and pretty much only listen to it when I’m on the treadmill and occasionally on long runs so I can easily get lost in songs I love.  Music was my saving grace yesterday.  I hung onto the 8:34 pace and time just ticked away. Total time for the third set of 5 miles: 42:34.

I was rocking it and feeling good.  15 miles – DONE.

When I stepped off the treadmill at this point, I had a renewed determination to be finished with this run.  I ate my last gel and reached for my water – it was time to refill again.  I had already had 6 water bottles full at this point, which astounded me.  This was way more water than I normally have on a run.  But my body needed it.  I was thirsty.  I ate my gel and refilled my water and hopped back on the treadmill.

I upped the pace and ran the next 2.5 miles at an 8:13 pace, thinking I would gradually increase over the last 5 miles to wind up closer to my race pace (8:00) at the end.  But I paused the treadmill after those 2.5 miles because I just didn’t feel right.  The pace was harder for me to hold than it should have been.  My skin was caked in salt.  Something was just — weird.  This is when I reached for my extra gel I brought along.  I was sweating way more than I had in a long time because of the warmer temperature in the gym and as a result I was probably losing a lot more electrolytes than normal.  So I ate my extra gel and then slowed my pace down for the last 2.5 miles, back to the comfortable 8:34 pace I had held for most of my run.  Last 5 mile segment: 41:51.

Total time for 20 miles on the treadmill: 2:50:20.  Average pace overall: 8:31 per mile.

The way I felt when I was finished?  Relieved.  Happy.  Proud.  Tired.

And definitely crazy.


I felt like giving everyone in the gym high fives, and wanted to rejoice with all of them.  But it turns out they were completely oblivious to what I had just accomplished.  Oh well.

I immediately went to the stretching area and foam rolled and stretched a bit before putting on some dry clothes to head home.  When I got to the locker room Robert called me and said he would place an order for Chipotle burritos for us – my favorite thing to eat after a long run.  Have I ever told you how awesome my husband is?  Well, he is really really really great.  For lots of reasons.  And this is definitely one of them.

I felt a little weird still so when I got to the car I drank some Nuun (which, by the way, I wish I had had with me on this run.  I normally get by with just water and gels but in this extra sweaty circumstance I think Nuun would have given me the perfect boost that I needed.  Lesson learned.).  Then I drove straight to Chipotle to pick up my recovery meal.

a vegetarian’s recovery meal heaven

For optimal recovery after a long run or extra hard workout, it’s important to get protein and carbohydrates back into your muscles quickly (ideally within 2 hours).  A loaded burrito is a perfect choice for a vegetarian like me — beans, rice, cheese, tortilla — lots of protein, fat and carbs.  Usually it takes me a while to feel hungry after a long run like that, but yesterday I was ravenous almost immediately so as soon as I got home I sat down to eat.  Before even showering.  Gross, I know.  But it had to be done.  That was probably the best burrito I have ever eaten.

Did I love running on the treadmill for close to three hours?  No, not exactly.  Am I ridiculously happy that I got it done, that I didn’t let the ice prevent me from getting my miles in?  YES.  I would do it again if I had to, though I hope I don’t have to any time soon.

What was your long run like this weekend?  Did you have to bring it indoors like I did?  What strategies do you have for running long on the treadmill?

28 thoughts on “making the best of it: 20 miles on the treadmill

  1. I had to do 18 miles on the treadmill once on a cold rainy winter day. It was in a little dark room with just a small TV and my treadmill and one little window. I watched a really boring movie that was on TV, listened to an audio book, some music, and whatever was on TV. I took no breaks and kept my pace at 7-7.5 mph. I felt so crazy after that, that I jumped in my icy cold pool for an ice bath after and my parents were wondering about my sanity…. lol

  2. Incredible!! I like how you broke it up into four 5mile runs. Genius. That's how my brain works too.
    My run was outside but really hilly.
    Great job on a tough mental run!!

  3. Yay!! I've been waiting for this post!

    You are so strong and inspiring! 20 miles on a treadmill is definitely a showcase of mental strength – you definitely are hardcore. 🙂

  4. This is amazing! Loved reading the chronicle of your 20 miler. 🙂 I'm not training for anything right now but love to run long; 2 weeks ago it was 16 outside, then 18 miles the next week, but the last week and a half we've had temps in Calgary of -30C and my limit's about -20C or so! That meant lots of indoor strength/tabata/high intensity workouts and jumping rope for me (no gym or treadmill access). I would LOVE to have a treadmill because it's a real novelty to me; I've done 10 miles just for fun on one before! I know it would get old, but it would keep my miles up. This weekend started warming up so I got 10 miles in outside yesterday plus a great day of snowshoeing in today. Blessed to be able to move! 😀

  5. This is seriously incredible. I love the idea of going to the gym to do the 20 miles…I get distracted when I run at home and see my hubby or son around – it makes me want to get off and be with them.
    I find that I sweat SOOO much more on the treadmill – it's like there are buckets of water being dumped on me! You must be so thankful that you grabbed that extra gel =)
    Congrats on a fantastic pace and for having the determination, strength, and guts to complete your run – despite the weather not cooperating! I'm so impressed!!

  6. You are incredible! I made it through 11 miles on the treadmill yesterday (aimed for 14, but my napping toddler woke up before I was done) and it was tough. I can't imagine doing 20 on the treadmill. You seriously rock! That takes just as much mental effort as it does physical. Great job!

  7. Haha! You are the best! I laughed when you wrote that you got off the treadmill and wanted to give everyone high 5s but they were oblivious. I can totally see you getting off the treadmill with that big beautiful smile and looking around to see a bunch of grumpy gym rats. Great job Jess!

  8. I seriously don't think I could do it! I am so impressed by the can-do attitude it takes to do it. I contemplated my Sat. 16 on the treadmill for a milisecond, and then said, no, can't do it. So outside I went!

  9. Geez! I don't think I could handle the mental strain of 20 miles on the treadmill. Breaking it up in to smaller segments is good strategy though.

    And burritos are my FAVORITE, mostly after long bike rides.

  10. Wow! 20 miles is a lot on a treadmill. I did 10 miles on Saturday because of the ice/slush on the road and it was tough mentally so I'm having a hard time imagining running 20. I like how you split it up though that sounds much easier. I ran mine at the gym, same treadmill as you and split mine into 6 and 4, I'm thinking 5 and 5 would have been better though. Great job on getting 20 miles on the tready!!

  11. I did a half marathon on the gym treadmill this weekend and wished there would be a big sign above me telling everybody. I did it!! 🙂 You are a rockstar!! 20 miles UNBELIEVABLE 🙂

  12. Impressive! That's really awesome! I did 11 on Saturday and that was the furthest I've run on the treadmill. You have set a new goal for me 🙂

  13. Great job. I have done 20 miles on the treadmill and know how mentally hard it can be. I didn't get a long run in this weekend, but I am looking forward to many long runs in the next 12 weeks. 🙂 Oh and I love Chipotle after long runs as well!

  14. I have been lucky not to have to do a long run on the treadmill this winter–I did 11 miles on it last year and THAT felt long. That said, if I have to do it, I am so going to use your strategy. I LOVE the breaking it up into xx-mile chunks idea (hopefully the treadmills won't have a waiting list–that's the most fearful part of it for me because I have to go to the gym too). Congrats on a great long run! Yes, music DOES help.

  15. We just moved south this summer, so I am not dealing with winter this year, which I'm appreciating. But I've done a few long (15-17) mile runs when we lived in upstate NY…it's tough! I like your strategy of stopping every 5 miles, I think that would have helped me a lot mentally, too. I'll keep that in mind for future reference. 🙂

  16. Awesome article, I am a big fan of this website, keep on posting that great content, and I'll be a regular visitor for a long time…looking for the next one….keep it up! runnium

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.